The canine that killed a 1-year-old Henderson boy won an 11th-hour reprieve Monday afternoon when a judge stopped his scheduled destruction.
District Judge Rob Bare issued a restraining order to halt temporarily the euthanasia today of Onion, the 6-year-old mastiff-Rhodesian ridgeback mix that attacked and killed Jeremiah Eskew-Shahan last month in the family home.
Lawyers working with The Lexus Project, a national group that fights to spare dogs from destruction, filed the motion for the temporary restraining order Monday.
"We’re thrilled," said Richard Rosenthal, a New York-based lawyer who heads The Lexus Project.
Bare scheduled a Friday morning hearing on whether to let Onion live and turn him over to the Lexus Project, which would send him to a sanctuary outside Denver that specializes in caring for large aggressive dogs.
Rosenthal said he hopes to negotiate with city animal control officials before then to settle the case and spare Onion’s life.
"Killing the dog will not bring back the baby," he said.
Onion was marked for death following the fatal April 27 attack on Jeremiah after the family had finished celebrating his first birthday at their home on the 1600 block of Navarre Lane, near Warm Springs Road and Arroyo Grande Boulevard.
Jeremiah’s grandmother, Elizabeth Keller, gave him a bottle and laid him down in the living room. The baby crawled over to Onion and – as he had done many times before – grabbed onto the 120-pound dog to help himself stand up.
Keller was leaning over to pick him up when Onion suddenly attacked, latching his jaw around the boy’s head and shaking.
Jeremiah’s father and others ran to the commotion and freed the child about 30 seconds later. The attack left the tot with a broken neck and a badly mangled face.
Paramedics rushed the boy to a nearby hospital before he was airlifted to the University Medical Center trauma unit, where he died early the next day.
The boy’s family said Onion had never shown aggression toward Jeremiah.
Henderson animal control officers declared Onion a vicious dog and scheduled him for destruction after a state-mandated 10-day health quarantine. That 10-day period ends today , which added a sense of urgency for Onion’s advocates.
They believe Onion was asleep after a long, stressful day and merely reacted instinctively when the boy startled him awake.
"There is nothing vicious about the attack," Rosenthal said.
Chicago-area dog rescuer Les Golden has led the public campaign to save the dog and hoped to pressure Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen into overruling animal control officials.
About 60 people, many of them from out of state, called or emailed Henderson city offices in recent days, city spokesman Bud Cranor said.
Now Golden’s campaign has moved from city hall to the courthouse.
Las Vegas lawyer Kathy McCarthy filed the motion asking the court to intervene in Onion’s case.
"Out of such a sad story, maybe we can get something other than a sad ending," she said.
The Lexus Project has saved about 30 dogs from death in the past year, including one involved in the death of a child, Rosenthal said.
He has never had a case in Nevada, however, and McCarthy, who heads the Animal Law Section of the Nevada State Bar, said she knew of no cases where a vicious dog had been saved by court action.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah’s family just wants the Onion ordeal to end.
Keller and her son, Christopher Shahan, have been stung by comments left on Facebook and the Review-Journal website, where many commenters have pointed the finger at them for putting Jeremiah near Onion.
They don’t need random people adding to their guilt, Keller said, because they have enough on their own.
"I don’t care if they save the dog or not," a tearful Keller said Monday. "We need to get past this."
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.